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UPS Uniforms Hoax

Message claims that a large quantity of UPS uniforms has recently been bought on eBay and that the uniforms could be used by criminals or terrorists posing as delivery drivers.

Brief Analysis
The claims in the warning are false. The story is an urban legend that has been circulating for at least a decade and has no basis in fact.

Detailed analysis and references below example.
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Last updated: 11th May 2011
First published: 21st September 2003
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer

Subject: UPS Uniforms "WARNING" - a heads-up message

UPS Uniforms

Government Warning regarding purchase of UPS uniforms:

There has been a huge purchase, $32,000 worth, of United Parcel Service (UPS) uniforms on eBay over the last 30 days. This could represent a serious threat as bogus drivers(terrorists) can drop off anything to anyone with deadly consequences! If you have ANY questions when a UPS driver appears at your door they should be able to furnish VALID I.D.

Additionally, if someone in a UPS uniform comes to make a drop off or pick up, make absolutely sure they are driving a UPS truck. UPS doesn't make deliveries or pickups in anything, except a company vehicle. If you have a problem, call your local law enforcement agency right away!

TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY! Tell everyone in your office, your family, your friends, etc. Make people aware so that we can prepare and/or avoid terrorist attacks on our people! Thank you for your time in reviewing this and PLEASE send to EVERYONE on your list, even if they are friend or foe. We should all be aware!

Kimberly Bush-Carr
Management Program Specialist
U.S.Department of Homeland Security
Bureau Customs and Border Protection
Washington, DC 20229

Detailed Analysis
At face value, this email warning sounds frighteningly plausible. However, it is nothing more than an urban legend that has been circulating in one form or another for at least a decade. Current submissions indicate that this hoax email is once again gaining momentum.

The message was not sent by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or any other government agency. Nor is there any record of large purchases of United Parcel Service uniforms on eBay. According to a 2003 Washington Post article, the claims in the message have been denied by UPS, the FBI and eBay.
The FBI has debunked several similar UPS stories since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg in Atlanta says the e-mail has been "thoroughly investigated" by the FBI and local law enforcement. "It is the urban legend of missing uniforms," she says.

EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove also says the UPS story "comes up empty."
Moreover, eBay has for several years restricted listings of government, mass transit, and shipping-related items, including uniforms. eBay's Government, transit, and shipping-related items policy page specifically states that shipping company uniforms, including those from DHL, Federal Express (FedEx), and United Parcel Service (UPS) are not allowed to be listed or sold on eBay in compliance with "strict federal regulations banning or restricting the sale of government, transit, and shipping-related items".

And, even if individual uniform items somehow slipped through this restriction, a large quantity of UPS uniforms listed for sale would certainly have been noticed and blocked before purchase.

In the past, eBay did allow the sale of UPS uniforms. In fact, rumours about large purchases of UPS uniforms may have sprung from the presence of such listings on various auction sites. The apparent willingness by some bidders to pay very high prices for such uniforms may also have raised suspicions and further fuelled the rumours. However, thorough investigation by the FBI found no evidence linking the purchase of these uniforms to terrorist activities. Furthermore, although some uniforms were bought, there were no reports to back up the claims that very large quantities of uniforms were purchased over one thirty day period.

There are several slightly different versions of the message, all referring to large purchases of United Parcel Service uniforms on eBay. Later versions tack on the signature of one "Kimberly Bush-Carr" from Homeland Security, apparently to add a bogus sense of authority to the story.

In April 2011, the hoax gained undeserved credibility after the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Division inadvertently sent out a copy of the false warning via the nixle alert service. Nixle is a service that provides "secure alerts free from your local police" to its subscribers. The LAPD quickly realized its error, and published the following update on nixle just 73 minutes after the bogus alert was posted:
UPS Uniforms *** UPDATE ***

Unfortunately the info re: UPS Uniforms came from another Law Enforcement Agency in the State of California purporting the validity of the information. This "INFO" is, apparently an Internet myth.

However, the advice is good in that you should always verify the delivery service has arrived with their own company vehicle.

Our deepest APOLOGIZES from the LAPD WVY Area !!!
Unfortunately, it seems that the LAPD's quickly rectified error was still enough to give the old hoax a new lease of life. Recent submissions indicate that the story is once again circulating rapidly. I have also received several highly critical messages from readers who claim that my analysis is wrong because the information has been "confirmed by the LAPD".

Of course, criminals have used government and company uniforms to help them commit misdeeds in the past and are bound to do so again. Uniforms can help us to identify certain employees such as law enforcement personnel or postal workers, but a uniform alone is not enough to conclusively verify the wearer. If in doubt, we should always verify the wearers of such uniforms by other means.

That said, passing on this bogus warning will only cause unnecessary fear and alarm among recipients and waste the time of those obligated to answer queries about its claims from concerned citizens.

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Last updated: 11th May 2011
First published: 21st September 2003
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer